When he began shooting his now-seminal film Wild Style in the fall of 1981, Charlie Ahearn just wanted to tell a simple story about New York's emerging

When he began shooting his now-seminal film Wild Style in the fall of 1981, Charlie Ahearn just wanted to tell a simple story about New York's emerging rap scene. “I had no idea at the time how important that was, because as it happens, most of the people I was hanging out with never got properly recorded,” he recalls. “But I would say they were properly recorded in Wild Style — you really hear how beautiful they sounded, and we don't have much like that from that period.”

One group in particular was just reaching its creative peak. Founded in 1978 by Bronx-born DJ Charlie Chase (with DJ Tony Tone, who ran with the Funky Four's Breakout and Baron before joining Chase behind the decks) and fronted by four MCs with the handles Easy AD, Almighty Kay Gee, JDL and Grandmaster Caz, the Cold Crush Brothers completely personified the swagger and attitude of what came to be known as hip-hop. The group's live scenes in Wild Style — including a smoothly choreographed basketball-court “battle” with their arch rival, the Fantastic 5 (whose DJ was a young prodigy named Grand Wizard Theodore) — provide a prime taste of the standard by which all hip-hop crews were later judged.

Although the Cold Crush Brothers never cut a full-length album, their legacy is secure for all time not only among the hundreds of bootleg tapes capturing their live shows at uptown hot spots such as the Ecstasy Garage, T-Connection and Harlem World (all now defunct) but also in the story of Grandmaster Caz's uncredited role in the Sugar Hill Gang's multimillion-selling single “Rapper's Delight,” originally released in 1979. Legend has it that when Sugar Hill label head Sylvia Robinson needed a third member for the new rap group, she randomly walked into a pizza joint and found ex-bouncer — and Cold Crush manager — Big Bank Hank rhyming along with one of Caz's early practice tapes. She signed him on the spot.

“Now, instead of saying, ‘Nah, that ain't me. I don't rap, but I work with these dudes who rap. This is them; I can bring 'em,’ he didn't do that,” Caz told S.H. Fernando Jr. in 1992. “[Hank] said, ‘Yeah, I'm down,’ and then came to me like, ‘Yo, they want to make a record.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, well, go ahead, man. What choo need?’ Threw my [rhyme] book on the table, you know, 'cause I figure, if you get put on, you put us on. As you see, it didn't work out that way.”

Recognition did not elude Caz or CCB for long, however. In 1982, the group went worldwide on the first Wild Style tour of Japan and inked a deal with local New York label Tuff City (distributed through CBS and later Profile) to release a series of 12-inch singles, among them “Weekend” (produced by Ecstasy Garage owner Arthur Armstrong), “Punk Rock Rap” (which featured the original “Oh, my God!” voice lifted by Doug E. Fresh for his hit “The Show”) and “Heartbreakers Party.” Years later, Tuff City collected the singles and key live cuts for Fresh, Wild, Fly and Bold (Old School Flava, 1995) and put out a rough-hewn but pivotal set called All the Way Live in '82 (Tuff City, 1995). One of CCB's epic battles with the Fantastic 5 was released by Afrika Bambaataa as Hip-Hop Funk Dance Classics, Vol. 1 (Planet Rock, 1991), later to resurface as MC Battle From Harlem 1981 (Slammin', 1998) with surgically remixed backing tracks by Chase.

To this day, the Cold Crush Brothers exert a profound influence on hip-hop — from Jay-Z (who calls them out in his song “H.O.V.A.”) to Jurassic 5 — and they continue to perform and record sporadically both as a group and as individuals. Grandmaster Caz was recently voted into the Technics DJ Hall of Fame (he is widely recognized as the first MC to know his way around a turntable), and eminent bastions such as Seattle's Experience Music Project have paid him tribute. “I MC with the mind of a DJ, and I DJ with the mind of an MC,” Caz says. “I feel the essence of hip-hop — it's what I do. It's who I am.” And it's who the Cold Crush Brothers will always remain.

Respect goes, JayQuan's Foundation and S.H. Fernando Jr.'s The New Beats (Anchor) for the straight dope.